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Criminal Justice Reform Advocates Say New Discovery Laws Not To Blame For Death Of Witness On Long Island

NEW CASSEL, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Did the case of a witness brutally murdered on Long Island have anything to do with New York's new criminal justice laws?

There was strong reaction Thursday from criminal justice reform advocates after police assertions that new trial procedures may have jeopardized the man's safety.

Supporters of New York's new laws said the death had nothing to do with changes in trial procedures.

Nine alleged gang members were accused of assault last year, and now one of the assault victims is dead.

Wilmer Maldonado-Rodriguez, 36, was bludgeoned and found dead at a New Cassel home on the eve of trial.

Nassau Police laid out a timeline that implicated new laws about revealing evidence for trials called discovery.

"We believe that the information that was released, our victim's information, which should have been protected, was turned over too early, and immediately after it was turned over, we saw the intimidation pattern start," Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said.

But is criminal justice reform to blame for that?

In this case, the new law was discussed in December. To comply with it for Jan. 1, names were turned over to defense attorneys but "for defense counsel only, not to be shared with their clients."

On Jan. 6, the trial was delayed. According to the judge, "The People failed to seek a protective order," but defense counsel "all consented not to provide witnesses' names" to their clients.

Prosecutors re-iterated, "So long as the victims' names are not put out."

"You kept that information to yourself?" CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff asked defense attorney Greg Madey.

"Completely, completely. And the other thing is that this case was on for trial Jan. 6. New law or old law, on that day, if it went to trial, we were able to disclose that information to our clients," he said.

"His death is being politicized to try and make a point that this is due to discovery laws. This has nothing whatsoever to do with discovery laws," defense attorney Justin Feinman said.

Defense attorneys in the case say the victim may have already been known to the defendants.

"If the DAs felt this witness was in peril or in danger, there are other steps that the prosecution can take other than protective orders. There's witness protection, there's police support," Feinman said.

Finger-pointing amid a divisive issue.

Rebecca Brown, the director of policy for the Innocence Project, says this tragic death is not the result of the new law.

"There are a ton of protections written into the discovery law that just passed, and in fact, the law that preceded it was a little narrower when it came to victim and witness protections," Brown said.

The law brings New York in line with most other states to end what's called "trial by ambush," where lawyers may not get evidence until the day of the trial.

"To blame a reform in the law to improve justice on this murder is really fear-mongering at its worst," said Donna Lieberman, the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

In fact, Nassau's police commissioner said the system failed Maldonado, but never cited a direct link between Albany's new laws and the murder. He asked the public to judge.

Maldonado-Rodriguez was assaulted back in December 2018 and was prepared to testify against nine alleged gang members this month.


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